Following the Parkland massacre, I began organizing a protest at a gun show in my home town. The gun show has been going on at the county fairgrounds for years. While federally licensed vendors are required to do background checks, private sellers are not. Because of a state preemption law which prevents counties and cities from regulating gun ownership or commerce in guns (and which creates civil penalties for any county or city that tries to), my county has been unable to do anything to stop it.
I’ve helped organize protests and demonstrations for different causes in the past, but I have never encountered the level of incivility I did in this case. Gun rights advocates wrote openly about their plans to disrupt the protest and intimidate protesters by carrying their AR-15’s openly. Commenters on a gun rights message board wrote about their plans to infiltrate a sign making party at a church where children were in attendance.
Ultimately, they didn’t do any of these things. They were all talk. But I would be lying if I said these comments weren’t concerning. In spite of them, we went ahead and held the protest. We had about 100 people present and we got good press coverage. A week later, our county council passed a resolution calling for greater gun control. Lobbying for the resolution had begun before the protest, but I think we helped push the issue further into public awareness.
Several articles appeared in the local papers, both before and after the protest. In reading the comments, I was introduced to a new term: “snowflake”. Again and again, critics called protesters “snowflakes”. I had never encountered this term before, and it felt somehow wrong, so I did a little research.
The “snowflake” insult was first directed, not at liberals, but at millennials. Those who lobbed the insult accused young people of being entitled, hypersensitive and narcissistic, the products of participation trophies and helicopter parenting. Critics pointed to talk of “triggering” and “safe spaces” (especially on college campuses) as evidence of the softness of Generation Y.
Somewhere around the 2016 election, the term began to be applied to all liberals.
The term has been credited to Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel, Fight Club, and the 1999 film adaptation starring Edward Norton and Brad Pitt. (“You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.”) But the roots of the insult go back even further, as Amanda Hess of the New York Times observes:
“The particular alignment of politics and gender behind “snowflake,” though, was forged in the 1950s — a decade during which, even in public policy, masculinity became associated with all that is independent, instinctual and pugilistic, and femininity with the communal, nurturing and systemic. …
“It also revives the idea of a culturewide wussification that must be fought with a return to aggression, physicality and ego. This is what the insult argues for — a rough-and-tumble world in which raw power reigns and nobody ever asks for help or complains of ill treatment.”
I’m a Gen X’er, and like many people my age, I tend to look down my nose at the generation that invented the selfie. But the reality is that millennials are facing a level economic uncertainty which was unknown to my generation (Gen X) or my parents’ generation (the Boomers). In addition, they have been born into a world where climate change looms over everything like the hand of God. The truth is that millennials have been screwed over, by their parents and their grandparents.
And it seems to me that the “snowflake” insult is just an excuse for some people to go on treating other people badly. You don’t like racism, misogyny, or economic inequality? Well, you’re just snowflake that needs to toughen up.
But getting back to the gun show protest, the application of the “snowflake” insult to these protesters was ill-fitting. To begin with, while there were some minors present at the protest, the median was probably closer to retirement age. It wasn’t just the age of the protesters though. Snowflakes melt under the slightest heat. These people did not melt.
I met a woman at the protest, who I guessed to be in her 70s. She was paper thin and barely came up to my elbow. Her daughter had lost her arm to a robber with a gun. I practically had to pull this woman out of the street with her sign. Drivers of pickup trucks with confederate flags were driving by, hurling insults and revving their engines. I told the woman I was concerned for her safety so close to the edge of the road. “I’m not afraid of them!” she told me.
This woman was no snowflake.
And neither were the other protesters. We showed up at a gun show, unarmed, to demand that the gun show loophole be closed. Think about that for a second: We showed up to face people who we knew were armed. We showed up in spite of threats of intimidation. We showed up in spite of the … well, spite … of the mostly conservative residents of my hometown.
We demonstrated peacefully in the face of men cursing us and flipping us off while they drove by one-handed. We demonstrated respectfully in the face of men who yelled “liberal pussies!” while we read the names of the 14 children and 3 teachers who had been killed the week before.
Meanwhile, where were the people who had called us snowflakes? Well, about three were brave enough to show up with their own signs. A few hid in their pickup trucks as they drove by. The rest? I presume they were sitting at home clutching their assault rifles.
One man in particular, who have previously been very bold on social media, calling for gun rights advocates to join him in disrupting our protest, posted a video diary of himself driving past the protest. He now claimed to be afraid to confront us. He called us both fascists and antifa (yeah, I know!) and said we were likely to fling feces at him.
It would be funny, if it weren’t so sad. Our protest was hardly intimidating. Our group was made up mostly of senior citizens and children. We were unarmed and peaceful. This man, however, is both physically imposing, verbally abusive, and the owner of at least one AR-15. That he was intimated by us I think says a lot about the state of fear gun rights advocates live in.
It makes me wonder who the real snowflakes are. As Amanda Hess observed: “The truth is that people who use ‘snowflake’ as an insult tend to seem pretty aggrieved themselves — hypersensitive to dissent or complication and nursing a healthy appetite for feeling oppressed.” And don’t get me started on the biggest man-baby of all, who’s in the White House right now.
In any case, all I know is that there were no snowflakes standing outside the gun show that day. The folks who showed up to the protest, they’re tough. And they don’t need guns to prove it.
What about the youth? A couple of weeks after the gun show protest, about 200 kids in the local high school walked out of the school in spite of the principal’s attempt to keep them in the field house. They walked out in spite of the threat of punishment by school administrators. They walked out in spite of the ridicule of some of their peers and the disapproval of some of their parents. A million others joined them in schools around the country. Say what you will about the rising generation, but I didn’t see any snowflakes among them.